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ADN vs BSN – What You Need to Know

ADN vs BSN – What You Need to Know

For as long as you can remember, you have wanted to be a nurse. You’ve heard about the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and you’ve also heard about the bachelor’s degree (BSN). Both ADN and BSN graduates become registered nurses (RNs), so what’s the big deal? Does it really matter which degree you get? Let’s explore some answers to these questions about whether the ADN vs BSN battle is as worrisome as it may seem.

ADN vs BSN Educational Requirements

To become a registered nurse (RN), there are two minimum requirements: (1) complete at least an Associate Degree in Nursing and (2) pass the NCLEX-RN exam. This exam, administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), is a national certification exam that all nurses must pass. The same exam is administered in every state as a standardized assessment used to determine an RN’s ability to perform a general scope of practice. RNs must also meet all licensing requirements in their particular state; these criteria vary from state to state.

These days, nurses can choose between an ADN or a BSN. Keep in mind there are many pathways into nursing. ADN programs can be completed in one to two years, and some nurses choose this route to enter the workforce sooner.

By comparison, a BSN program usually takes four years, but you may be able to complete it much sooner, particularly if you already have a bachelors degree in an area other than nursing. ADN degree holders always have the option to later earn their BSN by entering an RN-to-BSN program.

The two degrees do have curriculum differences. Both the ADN degree and BSN degree programs will contain core competency courses in nursing, and both require you to do clinical rotations to learn hands-on skills by caring for real patients in a variety of healthcare settings like hospitals and clinics.

The BSN degree does contain courses that you won’t find in the ADN degree programs. BSN degrees contain courses in physical and social sciences, public health, leadership skills, management and also nursing research. You will learn more depth about current issues that affect patient care. Basically, the BSN provides a more in-depth professional development degree option.

ADN vs BSN Jobs and Duties

Since an ADN and BSN will both get you into the nursing field, you’ll find that their jobs and duties are very similar. Registered nurses, regardless of whether they completed an ADN or BSN, manage patient care and promote health. They provide basic care and comfort to patients, reduce health risks, and are the front line in securing patient safety and controlling hospital infections.

Every state determines those elements of nursing care that are within an RN’s scope of practice. While each state’s board of nursing (BON) determines what duties an RN can perform, there are some general rules across the board. Typical duties include:

  • Prepare patients for exams or treatments
  • Assist in making patient assessments by performing diagnostic tests and analyzing results
  • Record patients medical histories and symptoms
  • Administer medications
  • Establish patient care plans
  • Operate medical equipment
  • Provide patient education regarding illness or symptom management and post-treatment care
  • Collaborate with supervising physicians and other healthcare professionals

RNs fulfill a unique role compared to non-registered nurses like licensed practical nurses (LPN) and licensed vocational nurses (LVN). In fact, RNs supervise LPNs and LVNs, as well as certified nurse assistants (CNA) who are not registered nurses but who complete a high school diploma and CNA certification.

A nurse’s education level, training, experience and workplace also set the scope of practice. Nurses who have a BSN degree are often given a wider variety of duties, and the BSN is the starting point for nurses to enter management positions. Not only do many management and leadership positions within hospitals and other health facilities require a BSN, but many nursing specialties do as well. Examples are nurse researchers, nurse educators and public health nurses.

The degree you have may also drive where you work. Most hospitals, outpatient facilities and home health providers hire both ADN and BSN nurses. If you want to be a school nurse or a nurse educator at the college level, those positions typically require a BSN. Outpatient clinics, assisted living and nursing care facilities, and retirement communities typically hire ADNs more frequently than BSN nurses.

ADN vs BSN Career Outlook

ADN vs BSN salaries show no significant differences at the start of a nurse’s career. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not distinguish between the two degrees in their salary reports. On average, registered nurses earn about $70,000 per year or roughly $34 per hour. BSNs have the potential to earn slightly higher wages, and their salary will also vary depending on the state they’re in their employer and their nursing specialty.

BSNs typically have more jobs to choose from than ADNs, but given that the BLS projects the nursing field to grow 15 percent through 2026, there are plenty of jobs to be had regardless of the degree you chose to pursue. In fact, nursing will grow twice as fast as other fields.

After you gain a few years of work experience as an RN, or you become a specialty RN, your salary outlook is even better. These nurses typically earn salaries in the $100,000 range. You can work in a variety of settings from physician offices (which tend to pay on the lower end) to government jobs (which tend to pay higher salaries).

Still, the majority of U.S. nurses are still employed at hospitals. In fact, BLS shows that over 60% of nurses are indeed part of hospital staffs. However, these days, with the expansion of healthcare in the United States, nurses have many other options for employment that go beyond a hospital setting. In fact, the biggest hiring trend for nurses is outside of hospitals in alternative facilities like outpatient clinics, ambulatory surgical centers, and long-term patient care facilities.

Many RNs find satisfaction working in non-traditional nursing roles as school nurses, home health nurses, parish nurses or even travel nurses. Others find rewarding careers as occupational health nurses, public health nurses, forensic nurses or legal nurse consultants.

Many RNs are happy being generalists, but after obtaining their general credentials, some RNs wish to pursue work in a specialization area, that is, a specific aspect of nursing. These specializations can center around a specific patient population, medical condition, research area or workplace setting. Here are just a few examples:

  • Ambulatory Care Nurse
  • Critical Care Nurse
  • Geriatric Nurse
  • HIV/AIDS Care Nurse
  • Hospice Nurse
  • Infection Control Nurse
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse
  • Ophthalmic Nurse
  • Pediatric Oncology Nurse
  • Psychiatric Nurse
  • Pulmonary Care Nurse
  • Rehabilitation Nurse

Certain employers may require RNs to become certified in a specialty area. Various organizations serve as nationally-recognized certifying bodies, such as the formal examination offered by the American Board of Cardiovascular Medicine for a cardiac nursing specialty.

After you have gained some experience as an RN, you might decide to pursue a graduate degree, the advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) degree. In the course of study of the APRN degree, nurses can specialize in one of four areas:

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) – anesthesia and pain management
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) – gynecological care for women
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) – research and evidence-based medical care
  • Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP) – disease prevention

Employers seem to be opening nursing job positions for candidates that have more education beyond an ADN degree. However, ADN degree holders still qualify for 60 percent of these job postings, so there are still plenty of opportunities for traditional RNs.

Three million registered nurses keep American health care going today. The BLS projects a major upswing in those figures, expecting that over 200,000 nursing jobs will be added in the next five years by 2024. Out of all the types of nurses employed, registered nurses are definitely the largest sector of the nursing workforce. The BLS expects that workforce to become even larger, with the 16 percent year-over-year growth rate of jobs being added to the sector.

There are other contributing factors to this trend. The need for more RNs is being driven by the aging population. More nurses are needed for more care. Along with the general population, RNs are aging too, with a full one-third of all RNs currently approaching their retirement years. Americans now have a much wider availability of healthcare and many more options regarding where and how to get those services. Finally, the sharp rise in chronic illnesses like obesity and diabetes is also driving the need for more RNs to help with patient diagnoses, treatments and education. For all these reasons, the career outlook for RNs is very good. Timing is fantastic for entry-level RNs, and jobs in this sector are growing at a much faster rate than employment as a whole.

Which role is right for me?

The ADN vs BSN trend seems to be leaning toward nurses having a BSN degree. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report entitled The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. In this report, the IOM suggested that the United States should trend toward most RNs (80%) being required to have a BSN degree by 2020.

While the healthcare industry will not meet the IOM goal by 2020, the trend is definitely toward RNs having a BSN degree. For instance, some hospitals and healthcare facilities prefer to no longer hire ADNs, but many facilities do hire both. Given the shortage in nursing, RNs with either an ADN or BSN should have no issues getting a job. There are differences, though, and here are some factors to consider when trying to decide on which degree to obtain:

  • Finances: a BSN can take twice as long as an ADN, so consider your finances and whether you will have to work while you are in school. You can always go into the workforce with an ADN, begin earning a salary and return to school later to earn a BSN. RN-to-BSN programs typically take one year to 18 months to complete.
  • Workplace: Think about the type of facility you want to work in. Some, like acute care hospital settings, usually want to hire BSNs, but other facilities prefer ADNs.
  • Further Education: If you think you may want to earn a graduate degree or doctorate in nursing, the BSN degree is your best option. There are also “bridge” programs for nurses who already have an ADN; the curriculum bridges the gap to the BSN and masters. If you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you can go through an accelerated program to earn your BSN in a relatively short timeframe.
  • Clinical Experience: some RNs believe that the ADN degree offers more clinical experience, while the BSN offers more management, leadership and research skills.

Remember that both paths lead you to the nursing practice, a growing profession that offers unlimited potential.

American hospitals could not function without RNs; these dedicated nurses fill a crucial role, and other healthcare facilities depend on them, too. In the United States, we are experiencing a major physician shortage across the country, but particularly in underserved rural areas. RNs are filling this gap; the healthcare system definitely depends on registered nurses to provide much-needed patient care. With RNs currently outnumber doctors by a three-to-one margin, you can truly see the needs that RNs are filling.

Many RNs love the excitement and variety of being a travel nurse or locum tenens nurse where they can sign short-term contracts to work in a variety of locations across the country. On average, contracts are 12 weeks in duration. These experiences allow nurses to work in both urban and rural areas and in different facilities with different patient groups. You get the added benefit of traveling to different places around the United States as well, and for many being a travel nurse is a very rewarding career.

There is no doubt that RNs are the foundation of the American healthcare system. Without them, that system would cease to function. Fortunately, there are more than three million practicing RNs right now in America. You should be one of them.

If you are looking for an in-demand, versatile role in the nursing industry, strongly consider becoming an RN. This career is rewarding and impactful and serves as a great foundation for further specialization or earning an advanced degree.

You can learn more about registered nurses by following these great resources:

Nurses are the heart of healthcare, but nursing is not the easiest job. There are long hours, difficult people and time away from home. You’ll experience stress and frustration but you’ll also experience the inspiration that comes from your patients. Maya Angelou had a famous quote that said, “They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Become part of the heart of healthcare today. Become a registered nurse!

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